Beets with chèvre, walnuts, and orange dust

Detox, graffiti, and “cat-hunting” in Paris

Beets with chèvre, walnuts, and orange dust

Between you and me, I can’t think of any vegetable more unglamorous than beets. Before I moved to France, I associated beets with the evil witch in a fairy tale. In my mind, before she tucked into her toadstool and eye-of-newt omelet (or a small child), she would start her meal with beets.

Nowadays beets are just about as fashionable as studded high-heel wedge sneakers in Paris (even the darling of fashionable Parisiennes, designer Isabel Marant, is making them). Beets have gained an all-pervasive influence in this city, even among street artists.

While wandering my neighborhood recently, I encountered the above poster, and wondered what the artist had against beets. Signed only Association de defense des maladies cardiovasculaires, these posters were plastered all over the walls of Ménilmontant.

BEETS = DEATH? According to the artist, witches may well be the only ones fit to eat this apparently fatal food. I could imagine BEETS = DIRT, owing to their pleasantly soil-like flavor. Or possibly BEETS = RED HANDS, since they tend to tint your palms while you’re peeling them. But death? Surely they couldn’t be that bad.

Eat like a pauper

According to author Lyn-Genet Recitas, BEETS = LIFE, or at least a life free of pesky food allergies. So I’ve been eating beets lately. Lots of beets. To prepare myself for the voluntary gastronomic onslaught that is the holiday season in France, I decided to do Recitas’ 20-day detox and food allergy detective work explained in her book, The Plan.

As a result, I’ve been spending even more time in the kitchen than usual, using the “non-reactive” foods Recitas prescribes to make soups and salads. We already eat salads almost every other night, summer or winter – David-Nicolas is the self-proclaimed “king of the salad” and I can definitely back up his claim to the royal title. His salads are full of fresh and cooked vegetables alike, and as his father (le docteur) always tells us, “For breakfast, eat like a king; for lunch, like a bourgeois; and for dinner, like a pauper.”

Confession

Beets with chèvre, walnuts, and orange dust
Graffiti in eastern Paris, beets, and Lyn-Genet Recitas’ The Plan, a great holiday-prepping detox diet.

So at the moment we’re prepping beets, carrots, pumpkin, and kale on weekends (but not for breakfast), instead of making our usual wanderings around the neighborhood. It was on one such recent flânerie or aimless walk that I ran into that street art above.

A confession: most of my walks in Paris are spent looking for a cat to pet. Friends call my relationship with cats fusionnelle and I imagine that in about 40 years I’ll be “that crazy cat lady” providing croquettes (cat food) to the felines living in the nearby Père Lachaise cemetery. J’assume – I’m definitely comfortable with that idea.

Cat teasers

But there are incidental perks of walking in Paris on Sundays: street art and free furniture. Or whiffs of stewing leeks or sweet garlic emanating from someone’s pressure cooker, whose valve is pointed directly out of a rez-de-chaussée (ground floor) window, like an odor-cannon aimed straight at my nostrils.

My last walk unearthed a few cat teasers…. I knew I had to be getting close, with all these clues! I followed the paw prints, and then, lurking over the villa de l’Ermitage, there was a papier-mâché cat head on the roof of a house, and not too far away, a door sign about the resident cat’s treatment status.

Beets with chèvre, walnuts, and orange dust

Beets with chèvre, walnuts, and orange dust

And then… a real live cat. Starved for affection, the cat was more interested in closing in for a camera head-butt than for posing for a picture. I couldn’t blame the beast, so I happily obliged with plenty of love, and then once I’d gotten my cat-fix, I realized I was starving too – not for affection, but for food.

Beets with chèvre, walnuts, and orange dust

Holiday season

Upon returning home from my walk, this lovely beet salad with chèvre, walnuts, and orange "dust" was on our menu. Along with beets, I’ll be continuing to eat other humble vegetables and “bird seed” (as David-Nicolas calls my sunflower and pumpkin seeds, hmph) for about 10 more days.

But as the holiday season gets under way, we’ll be happily abusing legal substances like champ’ (champagne), oysters, foie gras, along with turkey, and my signature dessert, Gingerbread-apple Cake with Apple Brandy Mousse (also on the menu for my December Cooking classes).

But… I’d love your help. The friends with whom I’ll be supping on Christmas have asked for a non-French holiday food for our table, so I’m looking for ideas. If you’ve got a favorite dish you’d like to recommend, please write your suggestion below my beet salad recipe, or send me a note! Merci beaucoup, et bonnes fêtes!

Beets with chèvre, walnuts, and orange dust

Biting into either raw or cooked beets is a truly earthy experience, as if you’re closing your mouth over tasty, sweet soil. This salad combines silky beets with the delightful crunch of walnuts and tangy orange.

It’s no secret why we often pair beets and chèvre — their sweetness is complemented by goat cheese, which you should buy neither too fresh — if it is sitting in a little liquid underneath, that’s not a bad thing, but it’s probably too fresh for this recipe – nor too fait, meaning ripe or aged. You want just the right level of goat-y flavor to complement the sweetness of the beets without overwhelming them. But try a couple of different ones to see which is to your liking.

I enjoyed serving this one (photo) with just a walnut on top as part of another meal – the walnut’s visual texture is strangely similar to the cheese’s rind.

Beets with chèvre, walnuts, and orange dust

Orange “dust” is easy to make – we used this often on plates for starters when I was working at a gourmet restaurant on an island in the Loire Valley. Apparently, the Michelin guide also liked the effect!

ingredients:
- 1 organic orange
- ⅔ cup (65g) walnuts
- 14 ounces (400g) cooked beets (not canned)
- fine sea salt and a few twists of the pepper mill
- ½ semi-firm chèvre (or more!)
- 3 tablespoons walnut oil
- 1 tablespoon orange juice (squeezed from the orange after zesting)
- a small handful of chives, 8 chives reserved for the décor, the rest finely chopped

how to make it:
1. Preheat oven to 300°F (150°C).
2. Using a zester or peeler, zest the orange, taking off shallow strips. You want just the outer zest, not the bitter white pith that sometimes comes with it. (If some is still left on your strips, just scrape them with a small knife.)
3. Roast the walnuts on a baking pan for about 20 minutes, turning and tossing occasionally.
4. Place the zest strips in a small casserole of cold water and heat over medium-high heat until boiling.
5. Right away, strain the zest strips, and then place them on a small square of parchment paper, spreading them out a bit.
6. Place a paper towel over the top, and microwave the zest strips on medium power (about 450 watts) for 8-12 minutes. The time will depend on the length and width of your zest strips, so don’t hesitate to check them as they’re drying.
7. In the meantime, shave the beets into thin slices with a mandolin (or, alternatively, cut into very thin slices using a food processor’s slicing blade). Handling these slices with care, since they’re very delicate, lay them out in a spiral pattern on four small plates.
8. Remove the zest strips from the microwave, and process them in a spice grinder, or a mortar and pestle if you like. If you find they’re not turning into powder after a bit of grinding, you can put them on a small dish in the still-warm oven for a minute or two to dry them further.
9. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper over the beets on the plates.
10. Cut the chèvre into small cubes (about the size of your thumbnail) and distribute them between the four plates, laying them on the beets.
11. Then chop the walnuts if you like, and sprinkle them over the beets and chèvre.
12. Drizzle the beets with the oil and orange juice, then sprinkle the orange “dust” and the chopped chives over the plates. Decorate with the remaining chives, and enjoy!

serves 4 as a starter



Tags : Paris , beets , chèvre , detox , cat


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Eloise 13 December 2014

Allison, you could maybe do a green bean casserole which I’ve seen at several dinners lately or a sweet potato casserole. I like the All Recipes site for recipes. Joyeuses fetes!


Allison Zinder 13 December 2014

Thanks, Eloise! Great ideas. Joyeuses fêtes aussi!


Katherine 15 December 2014

This is a tough one! My favorite main course is a baked ham or rack of lamb. But side dishes - mmmm! For me, creamed spinach or a spinach casserole (cheesy with bread crumbs) is my favorite... or potato latkes!


Allison Zinder 15 December 2014

Yum, Katherine! These are all fantastic ideas, too — any of these would be delicious additions to our French table. Merci beaucoup!






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